Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Farina Needs To Do

Instead of raising the graduation rates of NYC high schoolers, Farina and De Blasio should improve education.  What good is a 70% graduation rate if the majority of the graduates can barely read, write and do arithmetic?  What does a 70% graduation rate mean when the majority of college freshman must take remedial classes and many do not make it through?

If Farina and De Blasio are really serious about improving education in the city, the graduation rate will fall and only those who have earned the diploma and are ready to go on to college or careers will be getting them.  They will do away with phony online courses, boot camps and administrators who brow beat their teachers into giving answers during exams.

I predict this won't happen over night (or at all.)  This country is too hung up on numbers and no one will stop to look at what the lower statistic means in terms of a real education.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Blame Game

I'm tired of reading about retired UFT members voting and giving the election to UNITY.  Sure we are allowed to vote and many follow the "party line."   No one has a problem collecting our dues.  There are issues that still affect us.  But, our votes count less and let's face it, most retirees have no idea what they have done with the ballot by the time some one reminds them to vote and very few even bother with the election.  Our biggest concerns are trying to get into the Photoshop or Tai Chi classes and getting a good parking spot while attending them and not getting closed out of desirable walking tours.

The real problem with the union is apathy among teachers.  When I was still teaching, many had no idea who Mulgrew was, what UNITY, NEW ACTION, or ICE stood for or even what the election was for.  They were too lazy to walk to the first floor to cast a vote for chapter chairman and no one wanted to sit on the executive board at the school.  Some were afraid of displeasing the Principal, and in return receiving a bad write up or a terrible program.  One guy asked what sitting on the committee would do for him and he only agreed if it would get him released from his building assignment.  When something was not going right, they stuck their heads under the covers in hopes of admins not finding them.  They never stood up for what they knew were contractual rights.

If MORE is serious about gaining control of the union, they have got to reach the teachers on the job and get them to care and to vote.  They also need to reach out to retirees, to let them know what is going on in schools today, let them know the things they fought and went on strike for are being taken away.  They need to gain a foothold in UFT retiree centers and spread their message loud and clear.

I know people like NYC Educator and South Bronx mean well, but this blame game has got to stop.  It is non productive.  It does nothing to get people who will make a difference in power.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Chihuahua with Grinch Genes

A major holiday was approaching.  The Collie, the Rottweiler, and the Alley Cat had nice little parties for those who worked for them.  They brought in lots of good things to eat and filled their offices with cheer.  They knew they could not have had a successful year without the help of these workers and they wanted to show appreciation.  The workers in return thanked their supervisors and promised to do an even better job in the coming year.  The office was a place of mutual respect and admiration and because of this performance was always at its peak.

There was one office that had no holiday cheer this year.  The Chihuahua refused to recognize those who gave so much to keep her in her position.  There was no food, not even water and a few Kibbles and Bits.  There were no cards or e-mails. The Chihuahua just sat behind her desk scowling and making sure no one tried to have any sort of celebration or left early.

As the little dogs in her department left for the day, Chihuahua got up to give them a final message.

"Rest up my little ones for when you return, the real work begins.  I have lots more ideas to keep this department on top and you better be ready to carry them out.  If not, I have the power to make your lives miserable and I will not hesitate to use it.  Remember your lives and your careers depend entirely on me.  Now, hand over the gifts you bought me and get out of here."

NYC Christmas Photos

I love NYC all the time, but especially this time of year.  Nothing beats walking around to see the windows and the other sites.  If you are interested, more pictures here, on Facebook.
Time Warner Building--Columbus Circle

BTW--if you go, save money and eat in the tap room in the back of Whole Foods.  Lots of good beer, different than usual varieties and great food with many vegetarian choices.  

Winter beers are my favorite.  This one might have been the best I ever had and, believe me, I have had many.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas

 Light show on Sak's
Rockefeller Center Tree
 30 Rock
Rockefeller Center

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Gift

A friend shared this letter with me today.  It is beautiful.  It is the best gift a teacher could every get or want. This teacher was especially touched because her former supervisor was always putting her down, telling her what an awful teacher she was and how the kids did not like her.  We all need validation.  I was so happy she got hers I promised to share it here.

Ms. X,
I don’t know why it occurred to me to look for you on online now.
I have been thinking of you time to time but never imagined I could find you on world wide web.
I remembered your first name but have forgotten your last name so I couldn’t look for you until yesterday when I looked into my high school year book.
I was your student in late 80s and you knew me as Syo Lee
I’m not sure you will remember me by my name since you probably met many Korean students with similar names.
I was a shy student and spoke very little English.
You were my favorite teacher because you were gentle and kind.
You gave me a cookie once and I think it was Hamentashen now that I think of it.
You helped me to believe in me and not be afraid to show others what I am capable of.
Your gentle encouragement to come up and solve a problem felt that I was welcomed.
Your smile, gosh I still remember your big eyes and beautiful smile, made me feel like you believed I could do it.
Math wasn’t just a subject.
It was a language that let me talk to the world where people spoke different languages.
My peers respected me and interested to get to know me because I was good at Math.
That led me to enjoy my high school years in a foreign world that I just arrived.
You have done many mitzvoth. Thank you.
Looks like you are teaching in college now. Wonderful.
I am glad they have you as their math teacher.
I have become a hospital chaplain.
I recently moved from NYC to Dallas.
I used to serve as a director at a hospital in Manhattan.
I wish I thought of this back then.  I would have enjoyed seeing you once again.
It would be nice for us to reconnect.
I look forward to hear from you.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dennis Walcott College Office

I've been thinking and maybe I have been wrong.  Since Walcott became chancellor so many kids have walked through those college office doors, kids who never would have done so before.  True, they could barely read and write.  They knew no arithmetic.  They took bogus on line classes, had friends complete computer assignments and got rewarded with parties for just showing up.  They believed everyone owed them and that all they had to do was breathe to graduate, but they did graduate and go on to college.  Under Walcott, colleges are filled with remedial classes, more than ever before.  Few graduate, but hey, he was not a college chancellor so that as not his responsibility.

Under Walcott the college office has been turned into a joke.  Even bright kids are not prepared for university study because high school does nothing.  To get everyone to pass, courses were watered down to nothing.  Kids did not learn study and thinking skills.  Passing was a snap, no studying was required.  I know so many who flunked courses their freshman year because of this lack of preparedness (and don't forget the ones who failed because they had no business being in college in the first place.)

Then again, there could also be a Dennis Walcott Trailer Park of Education.  There is mold, faulty bathrooms, leaky ceilings and plenty of other unsavory conditions.  He also excelled in keeping up the quality of the education environment.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jeff Spielvogel College Office

I just heard about something very disturbing.  It seems the college office at a large neighborhood school is being named after Walcott, a man who did nothing but puts his lips to Bloomberg's rear and lower the standards of NYC high school graduates.  Oh wait, he did more.  He instituted policies that drove experienced, excellent teachers form the classroom, put young incompetents in charge and insisted proven innocent teachers were sex perverts.

Many years ago the college office had a fantastic counselor, Jeff Spielvogel.  He was the only college counselor and worked long hours advising and helping students.  He also ran AP exams, was in charge of graduation and ARISTA and I am sure lots more that only he and his staff knew about.

Jeff Spielvogel did more for this school than Walcott but he wasn't a politician.  No one would gain politically for naming the office after him.  And, that is sad.  The truly great ones go unnoticed.

Walcott is a graduate of that school, but that does not mean it needs to honor him and, if the people in charge of the naming have any morals, they will reconsider this and name the office for a person who honored it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Last Night

I am watching my class take their final.  Out of the 28 students I started with, 21 are present.  (This is a great statistic.)  Out of the 21, I am sure 21 will pass the exam.  I am hoping a few do well enough to pass the class.  There will be at least 8 A's.

It is fantastic to have a class like this, but it is even better to work in an environment that judges me on me, not their scores.  The college knows our classes are mixed bags, sometimes good and sometimes not so good.  They respect the teachers they hire and have confidence in their doing a good job.

In addition to no judgement, the college also knows that everyone has their own style, and, as long as it works they leave the teachers alone.  No one comes in for 5 minutes and rates us ineffective because there are no groups, or every student is not speaking at least once, or the lesson was teacher dominated.  They also listen to the students and, while one complaint means nothing, they will investigate multiple complaints and see what is really going on in the class.

I don't know what my class will be like next term, but I look forward to meeting a whole new crop of students and doing my best to help them like math and be a success.  Right now, I can't wait for my month off.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Not Just A Jewish Voice, A Human Voice

My Rabbi handed this out at this week's service.  I can't understand why anyone would object to background checks unless, of course, they have something to hide.

Blood Upon Our House
Gun control should be the Jewish cause of our time.
Tue, 02/26/2013

Erica Brown
Erica Brown
“You shall not bring blood upon your house.” (Deuteronomy 24:8)
One morning a few weeks ago, my husband walked into our bedroom and said, “There’s been a shooting at University of Maryland.” Not yet knowing the details but knowing one fact — our daughter is a student there — I did what every parent would do. I closed my eyes, held my breath and called her cellphone. She answered. I breathed. She had just heard the news and was about to call to let us know she was OK.
But all is not OK — not OK on the UMD campus, where there have been five gun-related incidents around campus in the past three weeks – and not OK in this country where the gun control issue has been reduced to a matter of partisan politics and incivility. We can’t even talk about it. The “loaded” debates are blinding us to the stark reality: too many people with mental illness and criminal records have access to guns. The UMD graduate student shot and killed one student, wounded another and killed himself. Next to his body police found a bag containing a fully-loaded, semi-automatic Uzi, several rounds of ammunition, a machete and a baseball bat.
Jewish law forbids the selling of weapons to those suspected of using them for criminal ends: “One should not sell them either weapons or accessories of weapons, nor should one grind any weapon for them, nor may one sell them stocks, chains or ropes... (BT Avoda Zara 15b). But we don’t have to go that far. The Talmud admonishes us not to keep a bad dog or a broken ladder at home because these can accidentally endanger family or visitors. In the Talmud, a hole in a public space must be covered lest anyone come close and trip into it as a result. We must put a parapet around a flat roof in case someone comes too near the edge and falls off. Precautions focus our attention on the issue of safety in the home. A gun is an object that kills. It does not belong in a house.
You can counter this by marshaling the Talmudic permission to kill someone who is pursuing you in murder. In Exodus 22:1, we even grant permission to strike a thief dead who is discovered breaking into one’s home; the murderer is blameless. Since the thief would likely kill the homeowner to escape being found, the homeowner acted in self-defense. This is true for American law as well.
But if we go down this road, we have to imagine a world where everyone — even children — have to be armed to stop someone else who is armed. It’s not only about owning a gun. It’s about knowing how to use it expertly and having it at precisely the moment when bedlam strikes. “Ain l’davar sof,” we say in Hebrew. To this, there is no end. And in this new universe of added security with a gun in every hand becoming a new American mantra like Hoover’s chicken in every pot, everyone is a potential suspect. Is this the world we want?
Contrast this to a Talmudic passage about Shabbat (BT Shabbat 63a). One “must not go out with a sword, bow, shield, or spear.” The sacredness of Shabbat cannot be marred by any instrument of violence. One sage counters that these implements are merely decorative. But others disagree citing the famous verse from Isaiah: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-knives…” If Shabbat is truly holy to us then aspire to the vision of Isaiah. Put the weapons away. Many have the custom — as our family does — not to make a blessing on challah in the presence of the knife blade. Blessings and knives just don’t go together.
Gun control should be the Jewish cause of our time. Our children should inherit a world where they feel safe enough to walk on a college quad without fear. They should feel safe enough to go to elementary school. But we are simply not outraged. We have come to accept murder rampages as a reality of everyday American life. If we believe that every legal mandate and mitzvah must be put aside to preserve life, then we are not fighting hard enough. We have not internalized the most basic Jewish impulse — that we are created in God’s image and must preserve and sustain the godliness in all of humanity. We cannot stand by the blood of our brothers and sisters. Check Leviticus 19:16.
I write this not because I am a Democrat or a Republican, an NRA member or a pacifist. I write this because I am a mother, and I am a proud American, and I am a committed Jew. And I cannot bear to see any more blood upon our house.
Erica Brown is scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her column appears the first week of the month.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Feeling Nostalgic

I helped a sick friend administer the final exam to her class this week.  She is a good teacher, well liked.  As her students filed out, many said goodbye and told her to feel better, but some just handed in their papers and walked out.  It is the same in most college classes, an empty feeling as the students leave that last day.

This is one of the things I don't like about teaching college.  I grow to like my students in the short time they are with me, and I know most feel the same about me but, when that last day comes, it is goodbye forever. There is almost no way to know what happens after they walk out that door.

I miss the little mementos I used to get from my high school students.  No matter how ugly, or small, they all sit where I can see them and they make me smile as I gaze upon them often.  Now that I no longer work in the high school, I have many as my Facebook friends and know how they are getting on.

I will never forget the face of the girl who handed me the candelabra pictured above.  It is probably one of the ugliest things I have ever seen.  She was so happy with her gift.  She said she spent a long time finding me a perfect one.  And, I guess it is perfect, because I look at it and think about her all the time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Letter From A Student

Below is a paraphrase of an actual letter sent to a friend of mine.  This student attends a very expensive four year college.

Dear Professor:
I am writing to you today to let you know I will not be taking the final exam tomorrow.  As you know, I haven't been in class more than three times this semester, but this has not been my fault.  You requested medical documentation and I gave my doctor permission to talk to you.  Please call him at 516 -XXX-XXXX.  I would have been ready for the final if you e-mailed me the chapters I had to study.  As for the homework I owe you, they have been scanned and are attached.  I know they were due the last day of class, but that is too bad.  There are only 12 attached so it should not be a problem for you to download them and then mark them all.
Let me know when I can take this exam and what I should study. I don't know what I did with the syllabus you handed out and since I haven't been in class, I don't know what has been covered.   Please don't schedule it before 10:00 AM or after 2:00 PM.  Also, Mondays and Fridays are not good days for me.
Thank you.  I plan on applying to medical school and really need an A in this class.  My dean will be speaking to you.

Sincerely yours,

Biggest Loser in College Today
(Pictured above it the Yeti from Sak's holiday window.) 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Central Park Arsenal

On one of my annual trips to see the mangificent store windows, I read about an exhibit of home made wreaths in the Central Park Arsenal.  I didn't even know this place existed, so I had to go and see.

The Arsenal is a magnificent old building which now houses offices and an art gallery.  If you have a chance, go check it out, you won't be sorry.

More pictures here, on Facebook.  (More window pictures in a few days)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Effective Teaching

Last Tuesday was rate your professor night at the college.  As I handed out forms, I told my students to be honest and offer constructive comments on the form.  The administration looks at them and uses them when it comes to rehiring adjuncts and to advancing careers.  The school doesn't give grades away, but it is, and always has been, students first and if a teacher continually gets all negative comments that teacher is checked out.

I know most of my students like me.  I can tell by attendance, by their work habits and by their questions and by the relaxed and happy manner in the classroom.  There are always students lingering after class, happily walking me to my car, chatting all the way.

Last Tuesday, as I left, a quiet young man stayed behind.  He said he told his friend to take my class next term.  His reason, "she doesn't let you leave until you understand perfectly." This comment made my night.  No Danielson is needed to tell me I am effective.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Product Of Bloomberg Education

Four exams were given.
Talia scored less than 40 on the two she took.  Two she missed and requested a makeup on one.  The request was made after the exam was returned so it was easy to say no.  She has handed in three homework assignments,both late.

Talia believes she can pass the class.  She attends college on Fantasy Island.  Talia is a recent NYC graduate, part of the legacy Bloomberg is so proud of.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Heart--An Important Ingredient For Success

I spent Thanksgiving in heaven, in the ME Hotel in Cancun.  I call the place because anything and everything is done to make the guests happy.  Okay, they could have done a little better with the weather (a little more sun but no rain) but it did not rain so I guess they did fine.  No one got painful sunburns.  The property and the rooms were beautiful.  The food and the drinks were plentiful, never ending and really good.  But, lots of hotels can boast of the same things.  The thing that makes ME really special is the staff.  These wonderful people make everyone feel like a guest in a home rather than a customer in a resort.  Every request is filled promptly, some even before the words come out.  Always there is a smile.  Everyone, gardeners, maintenance staff, maids, waiters, concierge and management do everything humanly possible to make the stay a delight.

Jonathan, one of the managers told us the staff is hired because of heart.  Anyone can learn to fix a toilet or make a drink but heart is something a person must be born with.

AnHeart is something teachers are born with too.  Any college grad should be able to master the material taught in an elementary, middle or high school, but teaching is so much more than that.  When I look back at cards and letters I have received, when I run into former students and their parents, I know I made a difference in countless lives.  They might not remember a test score or the quadratic equation, but they will remember how they felt about themselves in my class and how they mastered material they didn't think they could learn.

Today's teachers don't have time for heart.  They are too worried about test scores and statistics. Heart is not a measurable statistic.  It has no place in the classroom today.

More pictures here, on Facebook.